Tunisia: Bleak future for Alkimia

The Tunisian government-owned Chemical Company Alkimia, the main producer of sodium tripolyphosphate in the region of the Middle East-North Africa has disclosed its activity indicators for the first quarter of 2011, and according to them, production in first three months of 2011 reached only 19,500 tonnes against 35,860 tonnes in the first quarter of 2010. STPP is a raw material used in the manufacture of detergents in powder.

This decline is related to the cessation of the Tunisian Chemical Group factories, the only supplier of phosphoric acid to the company. As a response to the lack of phosphoric acid, the STPP production units in Gabes slowed in February and made a total shutdown of production in March 2011.

Similarly, sales have declined substantially, accounting for only 42% of sales from Q1 2010.

The increases announced for the price of phosphoric acid for the second quarter of 2011 were very influential.

As for investments in the first quarter of 2011, they mainly focused on the renewal of certain equipment and in the maintenance of production tools.

In any case, the STPP of Alkimia is becoming non-competitive among detergent manufacturers who have been developing polymères and enzymes, which are a more cheaper replacement. STPPs have long played an essential role in detergents, binding hard-water ions such as magnesium and calcium that would otherwise diminish the effectiveness of the surfactants by forming poorly soluble complexes. Despite their high level of performance, however, phosphates in general have come under increasing pressure from environmentalists and politicians because of their contribution to the eutrophication of water, which promotes excessive plant growth and decay, severely reducing water quality.

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